With Dad’s Army at Ocean Beach
We’re building a new forest on the hills at Ocean Beach in Hawke’s Bay. There’s a strip of land behind the sanctuary fence where a gap between the pines and the sand dunes – once farm land – is being lovingly covered in native plants.
I say lovingly because the whole project is wrapped in aroha, from the care with which the seedlings are planted to the breathing living forest on the hill. It’s a beautiful place with magnificent views down the coast; now thick with healthy New Zealand natives and full of birds.
Continue reading “Planting a forest”
Every morning now I wake after dreaming of isolation. It makes it hard to write.
It’s as if there’s a place in my subconscious that has gone very dark and is holding all the fears I don’t confront during the day.
I force myself to linger in that half-state to capture a fragment and make sense of it, but there’s nothing to catch; just a feeling of unease, an unexplained fear. I have never been able to step into my dreams and haul out a story and I am suspicious of those who say they can. All I can ever bring across that barrier are moods and shots of disassociated things, like photographs of a past I no longer remember. I haven’t ever drunk so much I don’t remember what happened the night before, but it must be a post-dream feeling: waking up on someone’s sofa, remembering scrambling noises, a cat rubbing and mewing to be fed, crowds of people gathered before a high fence, something bad. Continue reading “Writing and the dark subconscious”
Today is Jerningham Wakefield’s 199th birthday. Happy Birthday, you old thing.
Jerningham came to Wellington with the New Zealand Company in 1839, the thin edge of the colonial wedge. For that we can throw many brickbats. And hey, it’s his birthday! So here is my favourite Jerningham brickbat: a letter to the editor from a missionary, in reaction to Jerningham’s recently published Adventure in New Zealand.
It’s a hell of a book review. Jerningham and the missionaries never did see eye to eye Continue reading “Brickbat for Jerningham”
Vibrations of the Boyd Massacre
A man on a boat told me to run the Wairakau Stream to the Duke’s Nose, which sounded my type of thing. I took my friend M with me, a Spanish lady who was staying at the YHA, who is so intimidatingly spiritual she talks of her body as a separate person. She listens to her body, and does what it tells her. It told her to come with me into the forest, so off we went.
Continue reading “Whangaroa: running with ghosts”
and killing characters on the run
I’m on a bit of a roll with my running around Paihia series. Here’s a good, one way, one hour run. The Oromahoe is a ridge-line run through the Opua Forest which ends in Paihia. It’s a little over 6km one way, with a few short, sharp ups and downs. You can’t get lost.
I went early for a gorgeous start to the morning. There are a few glimpses of view through the trees, but no real lookouts to the spectacular Bay of Islands, tantalisingly out of sight below. Continue reading “Running the Oromahoe Traverse”
On board the Polly Woodside
It’s rare to walk around a museum in a ship. The Polly Woodside is just that; it is a wee historical treasure berthed on the South Bank at Melbourne. At first glance she looks uninspiring, locked in with boardwalks and surrounded by restaurants and bars, a big iron hulk of a thing with shabby paintwork and painted gun ports. It’s hard to get a sense of her scale and grace when you’re peering over the fence and the music’s blaring. We walked past her a couple of times before deciding to go back. Continue reading “In the Captain’s bathroom”
I went to the Nelson archives to find Captain Arthur Wakefield, agent of the New Zealand Company and uncle to Jerningham (about whom I’m writing a book). There are folders of transcribed letters, mostly from Arthur to his brother William Wakefield. I passed over the stiff official missives, but there are lots of gossipy, friendly letters, all signed yours affy, as if the word “affectionately” was too formal for such brotherly love. They are intimate letters and even a hundred and seventy-seven years later feel immediate, the sentiment easy to read. Arthur has a mixed retrospective reputation but I like him and he has a seat at my table any time he wants to show up.
But I got side-tracked by another story in the archives. Filed between Arthur’s letters were those of William Curling Young, writing home to England from colonial Nelson. William was 28.
His father was a director of the New Zealand Company Continue reading “William Curling Young”
Questions and optimism from Glenn McConnell
Here’s a young journalist who always asks questions that get me thinking all day. Glenn McConnell writes an occasional column in the Dominion Post and I enjoy his clear writing and fresh viewpoint. Today’s article (link below) is no exception and well worth a read in the run up to Waitangi Day. Continue reading “Looking forward to Waitangi Day”
I built these bookshelves a few years back. I’m no DIY-er but was forced into action. How frustratingly difficult it is to find slim bookshelves! You know, built for books. Paperback width. I took the shelves out to paint when we tarted up the hallway and found lovely matai wooden floors under the dull carpet. And then, for a while, we had a smashing, tidy, wide hallway.
But it wasn’t until the books went back in that it became home again.
Shipwrecks in cross-hatch
I spent a happy day in the Alexander Turnbull Library yesterday researching colonial goings on, and discovered that, in the 1850s, lots happened by letter. Introductions, demands, gossip, flirtations. News of shipwrecks and love wrecks and conflicts and strife. Thank-yous for gifts, shared notes on botany and invitations to the Governor’s ball.
These were original letters to hold carefully, from Governor and Lady Grey, Governor Fitzroy, colonial secretaries and adventurers and all their various correspondents. I found their loopy writing both marvellous and completely illegible. There’s a skill or art to deciphering them that I think might require many hours. Luckily, most had transcripts into fuzzy typewritery courier – still a few generations behind the digital.
The Victorians wrote with great sweep and flourish, with confident and well practiced hands. Paper was precious, and yet they had very large writing on small pages, I’m guessing because they were using unwieldy nib pens and ink which needed long continuous strokes. In order to economise they often cross-hatched, creating intricate designs of patterned penmanship, slanting gracefully across the page one way and another.
Today there seems to be an accepted truth that hand written letters are different to screen or typed letters. Do we believe a hand written love letter carries more love? I think so. These weren’t love letters I was studying at the library, but there was a spooky intensity in them that I’ve never felt from a transcript. There has been a recent resurgence in interest in letter writing – in the non-digital generally – but I don’t think the art will come back. These cross-hatched masterpieces are relics of a slower time, and when has a culture reverted to the less convenient?
A day wandering through a collection of 19th Century letters is moving and strangely restorative – it’s like time spent in an art gallery where stories and art come together as a whole.